After how great last year’s Cup North was, this year’s had a lot to live up to. A change of venue saw Cup North move from Artwork Atelier, a lovely warehouse space full of artists studios in Salford to the larger and more familiar Victoria Warehouse just by Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground. More synonymous with Manchester’s Warehouse Project a showcase for live music and dj’s, I was interested to see how the venue would compare as an event space for coffee. Needless to say the organisers had made a great choice and the rustic warehouse feel, felt effortlessly compatible with the aesthetic we’ve come to expect from specialty coffee shops. Occasionally feeling like you had stepped into the industrial zone from ‘The Crystal Maze‘ to partake in brewing and latte art challenges, while trying to find the best coffee on offer from some of the country’s best roasters and coffee shops, I found that in the end one of the best takeaways from Cup North was the intimate and exciting conversations on offer from some of the coffee industry’s most passionate baristas, roasters and all round coffee enthusiasts. One of the first great conversations we had was over at Heart and Graft with James Guard.
Walking through the door in need of a good cup of coffee, having forgone the traditional morning brew before the train to Manchester, to prep for a long day of coffee drinking ahead, almost directly in front of us was Heart and Graft Coffee Roastery and so we started there. It seemed fitting to start with a Manchester based roastery and having met James at last years event, where he had just begun roasting on his new purple Giesen W15 coffee roaster in the basement of Artwork Atelier, their new home, it was a nice link to the year before. Approaching the stand James was his usual bundle of excitement and was quick to offer us a cup of either the Rwanda Mugonero or his Natural Ethiopia Ayot Yirgacheffe Kochere, so named James went on to tell us because Ayot is the name of the guy who picks the cherries. My girlfriend took a cup of the Rwandan and I opted for a cup of Ethiopian, while James excitedly told us all about the coffees, so excited was he that absent mindedly and by natural instinct he began drinking the cup he’d poured for me before realising and pouring me another cup.
Above the batch filter canteen for the Kochere hung a beautiful poem that kept stealing my eye away from the conversation. As I started reading James explained that working in amongst art studios meant that occasionally there were a few unconventional payments for his coffee, with one artist leaving this poem as payment for a bag of coffee. I think James might have mentioned something about a carved polystyrene bust of Friedrich Engels too. After tasting the coffee I’m not sure which was better, the poem or the coffee, I was fascinated by both. The Kochere gave off strong notes of strawberries, similarly to taste there was tonnes of fruit, lashings of strawberries followed by notes of jasmine and blueberries floating around the finish. Leaving Heart and Graft we headed to go do some cup tasting, but I had a sneaking suspicion that before the weekend was over I’d be back.
With the Saturday being all about Cup Tasting in ‘The Bistro’ (not that I got chance to see much of it unfortunately) it seemed like a good idea to go familiarise myself with olfaction and triangulation at York Coffee Emporium’s stand. Here we met Lawrence to take us on a journey in discovery of our olfactory senses, laid out on the table were six scents, which I believe were from Le Nez that were designed to help us differentiate between sweet/spice, fruit/citrus, sugars and vegetal aromas.
The hope was that we would be able to pick out what categories the scents were from first, before narrowing them down to exactly what that scent might be. Lawrence passed around the first scent, with notes of green and a little like water it turned out to be cucumber. Second came a bottle that smelt like werthers originals, buttery but definitely sharper and sweeter like caramel, then lemon, which was almost obvious followed by a mellower softer buttery smell that was butter. The last two came as corriander seed, which would have been difficult to pin down were it not for the others and finally the clear stonefruit notes of apricot. Olfaction over we moved over to triangulation.
Here we were encouraged to smell the dry coffee across three cupping bowls. This is where our skills would be put to use, across the three bowls were two different coffees a Burundi Gihere light roast and a coffee from Honduras Finca Altos de Arapuca. What we had to work out was which two were the same and which was the odd one out. On smelling the dry coffee all three of us came to the same conclusion, that the coffee on the left was the odd one out. The differences were subtle, but the coffee on the left seemed a little earthier and a little less fruity than the two to its right.
Once the hot water was added things became less clear, the one on the right started to smell somewhere between the one on the left and the one in the middle. With the grounds cleared, it was time to let our taste buds in on the action. This sealed it for me, the one in the middle and the one on the right were a lot brighter than the one to the left and I was left confident in my first instincts. Time came for the big reveal and all three of us were found to be right, the one to the left was indeed the odd one out. The one on the left turned out to be the Honduran and the two brighter coffees to the right were the Burundis. While challenging, I was aware that the competition going on in ‘The Bistro’ was likely to be much harder than this one and with 8 sets of 3 cups per round and 3 rounds to get through just to make the final, I didn’t envy those competing this year. It was nice to get an insight into all the hard work they must of done, just to get to the stage where they were happy enough to compete.
Having eaten very little so far, it was time for some food and luckily for us the Laynes Espresso team had made their way over from Leeds that morning too. Had I not been at Cup North that weekend I might very well have been at Sheaf Street Cafeteria having brunch anyway. As per usual we stood struggling to make a decision about which dish to order even though there was only three options to choose from. In the end we opted for the brioche french toast with caramelised pear and earl grey ice cream and the avocado on toast with feta and chilli oil, which we convinced them to top with an egg.
We shared both, starting with the avocado on toast and as per usual both were amazing. I’m sure everyone else at Cup North that managed to make it to Laynes for brunch would agree and pretty impressive considering they were serving out of a marquee in the parking lot. Laynes just might be the best brunch in the north, but if you dont believe me you’ll just have to make your way to Sheaf Street Cafeteria and try for yourself.
Brunch over it was time to learn how to be a barista, assuming it was possible to learn to be a barista in five or so minutes at a coffee festival. We approached the stand to find it pretty crowded owing much to Dhan Tamang’s latte art pageantry. As the crowd thinned out a little I asked Charlotte Malaval, who had finished 6th in the 2015 WBC Barista Championships, if I had to be a barista to have a go or if anyone could try making a latte. Charming and welcoming in equal measure Charlotte set about helping me to pull an espresso.
Using Balzac’s Cup espresso blend from Vagabond Coffee Roasters on the Compak E series grinders, we ground a pre set 18g dose into the portafilter, while Charlotte encouraged me to tap it down lightly and help it to evenly settle by tapping the side of the portafilter with the base of my palm, before smoothing the coffee off with my finger and finally setting it on the table top to tamp down with firm even pressure. Lifting the tamp out smoothly, we flushed the group head to remove any remaining grounds, before inserting the portafilter into the left group head of the two group Monte Carlo Conti espresso machine.
Having failed to put the scales under my cup before pressing the button on the machine, we were left to judge the espresso by volume of water and time, stopping at around 26 seconds. Now it was time to hand over to Dhan, 2013’s UK Latte Art Champion to help me heat and froth some milk. Again I learnt something here I’ve been told many times before and that is that you measure whether the temperature of the milk is right or not, by feel. I think if you can hold it for 3 or so seconds before its too hot rather than say 1 second then you’ve got somewhere close. From here the advice was to tilt my cup and start my pour high before coming closer with the milk jug to the coffee in order to produce definition and detail. In the end (with a lot of help) we managed a shapely looking heart, which one of the many members of the audience that had gathered agreed to drink.
Apparently, it wasn’t bad, which I put down to a forgiving espresso blend and a lot of help. Afterwards I asked Dhan to make me another to show me how it was supposed to be done. After some ridiculous, but neat hand movements here is what he produced without me holding him back.
I think we can all agree that that looks pretty impressive. You can see more of Dhan’s impressive work on his instagram if you like pictures of latte art that you could only dream of pouring.
After all the action at Conti Coffee School, it was time to slow down and cool down with some cold brew. Walking past, Artemis encouraged us to try some of their cold brew, made from a fruity Yirgacheffe, so we took a sip. It had retained a lot of its acidity for a cold brew and had some tasty flavour notes of yellow fruit that we enjoyed.
Talking to the boys on the stand we asked about their methods for brewing cold brew and if they had any tips for making cold brew at home. Besides paying lots of money for an iced copper coil dripper, which is actually more akin to iced coffee than cold brew, they didn’t think that brewing cold brew at home would be that successful in terms of flavour and filtration. After all, their product is triple filtered and brewed in larger batches to some methods they were keeping close to their chest. They did offer some tips on home brewing in general though, enquiring as to whether we’d heard of Norwegian egg coffee, with raised eyebrows we admitted we hadn’t. Turns out it’s a brewing method that has passed me by, involving simmering a coffee and egg solution in a pan to make a really clear brew, similar in appearance to cold brew. There are a couple of good videos on youtube by RitualCoffee and Tastermade you can watch as a guide should you be interested in making a cup.